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  • Some of My Mother’s Things
  • Laurie Sieverts Snyder (bio)

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Some of My Mother’s Things is an ongoing series of photographs of collections from my parents’ household. My mother, born in Danzig in 1908 and raised in Frankfurt, died in 1993 in Ithaca, New York. She was Jewish, but she never attended a synagogue or celebrated Jewish holidays. My father, born in Leipzig in 1906 and raised in Jena, died in Ithaca in 1979. He was not Jewish. In the United States, they became members of the Society of Friends.

My parents emigrated to the United States in May 1938 with my two older brothers, who were no longer allowed to attend nursery school because of their half-Jewish status. My grandmother stayed behind, at her own request, and my parents made every effort to bring her to the United States. But she died in Frankfurt in December 1940. This tragedy pervaded my childhood and still haunts me as I play her music with her annotations or set the table on tablecloths that she embroidered. I also photograph her things: the bandages that she knitted and labeled, letters that she wrote, and the childhood letters she saved of her only daughter, my mother.

My mother saved things: keys to every cabinet and drawer, suitcases, and doors. All her eyeglasses. She dug up the dahlias in the fall, stored them in a baby bathtub, and replanted them in the spring. She was an enthusiastic gardener. She was a violinist and her mother a pianist. The albums of music are now crumbling and brittle. Her music friends continue to use her music. The tablecloths, dozens of them, are mended and stained. I use a large square damask tablecloth as a bed sheet.

I am always amazed at the things they brought with them when they emigrated by ship: furniture, rugs, books, linens, letters, toys, photographs, dishes, pots and pans. Then I remember that they could not bring money, so they brought everything else: including a box of bandages, one labeled in an early script: “a clean breast cloth from the beginning of the 19th century.” The label is sewn onto the linen cloth.

After my mother’s death, I went through boxes of photographs. I found one yellow Kodak envelope, labeled in my mother’s handwriting: “Helmut’s ‘Weltreise.’” In the envelope were photographs of Daddy’s trip to America in 1937 when he was searching for a job and a place to move with his little family. He traveled by boat through Cuba, Mexico, and the Panama Canal to California and back across the United States by train. In the envelope are snapshots of my father, looking very handsome, age 31, standing at the ship’s rail with an attractive young woman. The photograph is labeled on the verso, in his handwriting, “meine kleine Freundin, Patricia Hays”—this is not my mother. My mother was in Frankfurt, waiting to hear where they would go, and during that time she lost her third baby.

My mother wrote letters almost every day, and she kept a carbon copy on onionskin of each of her letters. She started writing letters as early as 1913. Most of the letters are in German. I don’t speak or write German, yet I feel compelled to store these relics of times past. When I traveled in Germany, I tried to speak German, but the words stuck in my throat.

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Laurie Sieverts Snyder

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 82-98
Launched on MUSE
1998-12-01
Open Access
No
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